Proposed bill would rescind Medals of Honor given for Wounded Knee massacre

Posted at 3:15 PM, Jun 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-26 18:52:19-04

Three members of Congress, including one of the first Native Americans to serve on Capitol Hill, have introduced legislation that seeks to rescind 20 Medals of Honor awarded for the Wounded Knee massacre.

If passed, the “Remove the Stain Act” would remove the names of the 20 cavalrymen that are currently on the Medal of Honor Roll. It wouldn’t require any surviving medals to be returned, nor the denial of any benefits. All 20 men that received the medal are dead.

The effort began when Rep. Denny Heck of Washington went to his staff with an idea for a bill. Native American groups have been calling for the medals to be rescinded for years.

“The congressman had been reading about the massacre and was bothered by the fact that the 20 Medals of Honor had not been rescinded,” his spokesperson Bobby Mattina told CNN. “He sees this bill as helping Native American communities with healing, but also protecting the prestige of the Medal of Honor and removing the stain of the massacre from its legacy.”

One of his cosponsors is Rep. Deb Haaland, who earlier this year became one of the first Native American women to ever serve in Congress.

“This bill is particularly significant, because it’s a marker,” she said in a speech announcing the bill’s introduction. “It shows that our country is finally on its way to acknowledging and recognizing the atrocities committed against our Native communities.”

Also sponsoring the bill is Paul Cook, R-California. CNN has reached out to the National Congress of American Indians but did not yet receive a response.

The Medal of Honor is the highest military award in the United States.

The 7th Cavalry were disarming a group of Lakota Native Americans led by Chief Spotted Elk near Wounded Knee Creek in 1890. It’s unclear how the massacre began but some accounts say a deaf Native American refused to give up his rifle.

The incident left some 350 to 375 Lakota dead or wounded, including Chief Spotted Elk. The bill says that most of those killed and injured were unarmed women and children.

Wounded Knee was the last major incident of the Indian Wars.

Congress expressed regret for the massacre on its 100th anniversary in 1990.